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Updated: August 28th, 2011 11:25pm
Notebook: Extended time for young QBs on Thursday; protection improved

Notebook: Extended time for young QBs on Thursday; protection improved

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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Leslie Frazier hesitated and smiled as he processed the question.

Who will start at quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings in Thursday's exhibition finale against the Houston Texans -- Joe Webb or Christian Ponder?

"Umm," Frazier said finally, "to be determined."

It seems unlikely Donovan McNabb will play even a series, given the starting offense's encouraging performance in Saturday's 23-17 loss to Dallas and the team's need to continue evaluating their top two backups.

Webb finished 4-of-7 passing for 81 yards, including a "go" ball for Emmanuel Arceneaux for 43 yards after he rescued a premature snap. He also scrambled twice for 46 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown run.

"They covered everybody up and only rushed three people," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. "Joe stepped up, got his facemask grabbed and did his thing.""

Ponder was only 3-of-8 for 60 yards but drove the third-string offense 65 yards in the final 1 minute, 7 seconds -- a drive that ended at the Cowboys' 16-yard line when fellow rookie Allen Reisner couldn't get out of bounds after a catch.

"I think he just needs more turns," Musgrave said. "Without an offseason, without those minicamps and the drill work involved in OTAs, everything is brand new to Christian. Everything. You can see that he's a tremendous athlete. He's definitely smart enough and tough enough. He'll get more and more comfortable as he gets adapted to the speed of the game."

Odds are good both will young quarterbacks will play 1½ quarters or more, depending on whether coaches want to give fourth-stringer Rhett Bomar his first action of the preseason.

Ponder entered training camp as the favorite to win the No. 2 job and has the superior passer rating (71.1 to Webb's 58.2). But it's difficult to argue with Webb's ability to make something out of nothing, which could prove valuable in a partial-game situation should McNabb get hurt.

"There is definitely room to improve," Ponder said. "I've got three games under my belt and I've learned from each game. I've gotten some experience, and now, the fourth game is going to be good. I'll get a lot more playing time. I don't think the starters will play any."

Herrera holds up

Anthony Herrera played 28 snaps in his preseason debut without a glaring error.

The question now is, did coaches see enough to reinstall him as their starting right guard less than nine months after knee reconstruction?

"I think everything went well, man," Herrera said. "It wasn't that much of a drop-off. There's always things that I can get better at with the limited number of reps that I had, but working in the right direction. It feels good."

Neither of the Vikings' alternatives did much to distinguish themselves. Chris DeGeare left the game early after suffering a mild concussion on special teams, and Ryan Cook scuffled in relief, failing to pick up a twist on Anthony Spencer's second-quarter sack.

Asked if Herrera is coming along at the speed the Vikings hoped, Frazier said, "I think so. I've got to watch a little tape on him. But it looks like he was not overmatched. It didn't look like the leg really inhibited him in any way, and he came off confident about where he was, and it was encouraging for our team.

"I think we have a chance to maybe push him for that first (regular-season) game, but we'll talk about that this week."

Protection not bad

The No. 1 offensive line held up OK against Dallas' talented front, including rush linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.

But the Cowboys didn't exactly test the group. They dropped Ware some, rushed more than four men three times in 18 dropback passes (16.7%) and rushed three on six occasions (33.3%), while the Vikings used at least one chip or extra protector eight times (44.4%), not including four bootleg plays.

Ware's only pressure came when he overpowered tight end Jimmy Kleinsasser with a bull rush. Spencer got one hit on McNabb against right tackle Phil Loadholt, who also allowed a pressure to backup Victor Butler.

"Those two guys are tough to deal with, 93 and 94," Musgrave said. "So, we did a good job of neutralizing them initially."

Left tackle Charlie Johnson had some trouble with Ware's outside speed rush but didn't allow measureable pressure.

Health watch

Cornerbacks Antoine Winfield (shoulder stinger) and Chris Cook (hamstring) were "fine" after departing with minor injuries on Saturday night.

The same can't necessarily be said for Asher Allen, who hasn't practiced since Aug. 17 because of a sore toe.

"That's exactly what it is, and we'll have to evaluate him when we come back on Monday," Frazier said. "But from what I was told, he's doing well, but we'll see what happens when we get back on Monday."

Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring) "is really close to being back," Frazier said, but probably will be held out of Thursday's preseason finale. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams (foot), halfback Toby Gerhart (ankle/Achilles) and linebackers Kenny Onatolu (foot), Ross Homan (concussion) and Heath Farwell (hamstring) also sat out on Saturday.

No update was available on DeGeare or halfback Lorenzo Booker, who didn't return after crumpling to the ground untouched with an apparent back injury.

Quick hits

• Despite not securing any sellouts yet, the Vikings remained optimistic last week about avoiding blackouts. But they have made one move to address the issue, offering 50% off the price of upper-deck tickets for their first two regular-season games Sept. 18 against Tampa Bay and Sept. 25 against Detroit.

Erin Henderson, the front-runner at weakside linebacker, finished Saturday's game with only one solo tackle and one assist while ceding some first-team snaps to David Herron, who signed with the Vikings the day before.

Chris Cook, who missed time with two knee injuries as a rookie in 2010, said the wrap on his left hamstring was strictly precautionary. "I'm definitely more aware of taking care of my body," Cook said. "This business is all about your body and what you can do with your body and how you can use your body. I take care of my body way better than I did last year. More cold tubbing, more stretching, more massaging, everything."

• The Vikings will resume practice on Monday afternoon and practice once more on Tuesday, when they also must trim the roster from 90 to 80 players.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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